Filler content with imagined slights

A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #32:-

James Lovegrove
Gollancz pb, 276pp, £6.99

The table of contents presents the thirteen stories that make up this collection in the form of a pie chart, which is perhaps emblematic of Imagined Slights itself. The novel form is a pleasing conceit, but for all that it remains only a table of contents. Similarly, while enjoyable, in the main these stories contain nothing that is truly new or original or striking. What we get are competent variations on old themes, familiar plots given a little tweak here, an added shade of emotion there.

‘Wings’ is probably the best of what’s on offer, deftly capturing the anguish of an earthbound child in a society where people can fly and using that as a metaphor for disability in general, along the way adding such nice touches as having the characters named after angels. And the worst is the aptly titled ‘The Unmentionable’, in which a man inherits an old house and uncovers a deadly secret, a Lovecraft parody that falls over itself to be funny but succeeds only in being ridiculous. The humour is less forced in ‘Britworld TM’, a tongue in cheek satire of cultural stereotypes, which has Britain recycled as a theme park for American tourists. ‘The Gift’, another highlight, exploits the scenario Lovegrove developed in his novel The Foreigners, looking at the effect on two very different people when the aliens on whom mankind has become economically dependent leave Earth, a story that demonstrates a firm grasp of character and the subtleties of emotion.

Most of the other stories though are tainted by a heady whiff of déjà vu, such as ‘The Drifting’, in which an all-female community is disrupted by the arrival of a stranger, and no prizes for guessing what the tuberous growth between her legs is. ‘Satisfaction Guaranteed’ is an indifferent version of the hold horror staple about a man falling in love with a corpse, while the equally unremarkable ‘Thanatophile Seeks Similar’ has a sickly young woman beguiled by the romantic possibilities of a guy who lives in a graveyard. In the ghost story ‘Rosemary for Remembrance’ a woman waits fifty-two years for the return of her lover who went off to war, while ‘The House of Lazarus’ presents a future in which dead relatives are stored in cryogenic tanks and can converse with their descendants, who have to pick up the bill.

Lovegrove’s voice is assured if unremarkable and, with a couple of exceptions, all of the stories in this collection are worth reading, but the pleasures arising out of the exercise are transient and derive from the undeniable satisfaction of seeing a story competently told rather than from any shock of the new.

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